PREPARING THE SITE
Bill project managed the build, and he and Gill were on site every day. The old house was demolished in a day. 'It was a terrible feeling, spending just eight hours demolishing a house we spent years putting up - a bit like seeing your car in a crusher,' says Bill. The old footings were hooked out and the new ones dug deeper, to 1.5m, with massive ones for the chimneys. Underlying the land is solid chalk. The basement was dug out and its walls brought to the level of the footings. The ground floor consists of concrete beams sitting on top of the basement walls. Next came the scaffolding up to the level of the first floor, ready to support the oak frame.
THE TIMBER FRAME GOES UP!
'It was so exciting, but also terrifying, seeing the frame go up. We had measured the footings over and over, and knew our sizing was correct. The payments are staged, and you’ve paid for the wood and frame before you see it on site, so just pray it will fit,' Bill explains. Once the oak frame was up, the Wades jumped up a gear and decided to spend extra to match the majesty of the house. 'We had to do it justice, to go for the highest spec, and make it all singing and all dancing,' says Gill. The frame is in green oak, which will shrink and settle over the years, and each piece is numbered and pegged together. 'The noise from the cracking as it dries is incredible for the first 18 months,' says Bill.
The seasoned timber cut from his oak trees, creating the beautiful wide floorboards and doors, will also dry out, and the only kiln-dried wood is in the staircases and window frames. Light floods into the house from every aspect and there's a gloriously large double-height window in the dining hall. For practical reason, tiny Tudor windows would be unacceptable today, as some must be usable as fire escapes, and the Wades also wanted windows with low sills. 'When I saw the oak frame go up, I realised one of the windows was too close to the corner of the building. Oakwrights immediately supplied new drawings and the problem was fixed in just one day,' says Gill.
THE FARMHOUSE INTERIOR
On the ground floor, the farmhouse has a large dining hall, with doors leading off it to a large comfortable living room with views over the fields, to a fitted kitchen – also in oak – with more views, and onto a breakfast room. A staircase from the dining hall leads to a mezzanine galleried living area and to the bedrooms. Upstairs, the master bedroom has a large en-suite with bath and tiles found on a visit to the Ideal Home Show. There are two further bedrooms, a bathroom and an annexe with its own entrance, containing a living room, bedroom, bathroom and a narrow galley kitchen. The Wades used a specialist company for the living room fireplace and the magnificent dining room fireplace, set in a corner of the room, where it makes a spectacular feature.
The style of the dining room fireplace was the result of teamwork. The Wades had originally wanted an oak surround, but their bricklayer suggested the stone. 'The firm that supplied it supplies technical working drawings for the builder – the fireplace is guaranteed not to smoke and the chimney incorporates a steel flue. It was expensive, but worth it,' says Bill. 'The bricklayer was amazed to get such detailed plans, as usually he has to work out a chimney design for himself.' Bill and Gill's presence on site meant they could solve problems on the spot. For instance, when they realised the turn in the staircase would affect head height in the living room below, they replaced the offending section with a supporting post, turning a potential disaster into a feature.